California DMV suspends driverless cruise cars in San Francisco

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has suspended Cruise from operating self-driving taxis in San Francisco, effective immediately, for allegedly withholding footage of a severe crash involving one of the company’s robotaxis.

The crash, the first autonomous vehicle crash in San Francisco to result in serious injuries, occurred after a human driver struck a woman crossing Market Street and threw her into the path of a nearby cruise taxi before escaping. Authorities have not yet arrested the suspected human driver responsible for the accident.

Cruz’s handling of the Oct. 2 accident is what prompted state regulators to suspend the ride, according to the DMV’s suspension order, which Vice first reported.

In that document, the DMV claimed that Cruz’s representatives were not initially shown the entire onboard camera footage captured by the robo-taxi involved in the crash. Footage the company provided to DMV investigators and journalists who covered the accident showed the Cruz robotaxi braking hard after colliding with the pedestrian.

However, later footage the DMV obtained from Cruz after learning of its existence from another government agency shows the robo-taxi then performed a “vest maneuver.”

Attempting to stop after colliding with a pedestrian, according to the DMV, “suggests that cruise vehicles may lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during incidents involving a pedestrian so as not to unnecessarily place the pedestrian or others at risk of further injury.”

The suspension means Cruise cannot use its robot without a human driver, either for free or during paid trips. The company is still allowed to test its technology with a safety driver.

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Cruise and Waymo received regulatory approval in August to operate their automated cars commercially at all times in San Francisco. However, the DMV ordered Cruise to reduce its fleet within half a week after the approved expansion, as it investigated several recent incidents involving robo-taxis.

The San Francisco-based company also “misrepresented” information to regulators regarding the safety of its vehicles’ self-driving technology, according to the DMV.

The suspension comes weeks after a driverless Cruise Taxi was involved in an accident that led to serious injuries at the pedestrian crossing at Fifth and Market streets in downtown San Francisco.

The crash, the first autonomous vehicle crash in San Francisco to result in serious injuries, occurred after a human driver struck a woman crossing Market Street and threw her into the path of a nearby cruise taxi before escaping. The authorities did not arrest any suspects in the incident.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles has suspended the operating permit for GM-owned Cruise to conduct driverless rides in San Francisco.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The DMV did not say how the Oct. 2 incident affected its investigation. Cruz confirmed in a statement Tuesday morning that she will temporarily stop operating without a driver in San Francisco.

“Ultimately, we are developing and deploying autonomous vehicles in an effort to save lives,” Cruz said in the statement. “In the accident reviewed by the DMV, a hit-and-run driver tragically struck the pedestrian and pushed him into the path of the AV. The AV braked hard before the collision and because it detected a collision, it attempted to stop to avoid further safety issues. When the autonomous vehicle attempted to stop, it continued driving before You reach the final stop, pulling pedestrians forward.

According to the DMV, Cruise can request a hearing to reinstate his deployment permit, which allows the company to operate self-driving taxis commercially, within five days of its suspension. If this happens, the DMV will grant a hearing within 21 days of the request.

“In order to reinstate their permits, Cruz will need to provide the department with information regarding how the deficiencies that led to the suspension will be addressed,” the DMV said in an email.

This year has been full of highs and setbacks for San Francisco’s nascent self-driving car industry, as General Motors Co.-owned Cruise and Alphabet Inc.-owned Waymo sought to prove that their robotaxis could operate safely and profitably.

An August 10 decision by the California Public Utilities Commission allows Cruise and Waymo to charge for fully driverless rides at all times across San Francisco as the two companies expand into other cities.

While the technology is booming elsewhere, robotaxis in San Francisco — a notoriously difficult environment for drivers, both human and robot — have divided residents and city officials since driverless operations increased last year.

Fire officials have criticized the technology because they say the erratic behavior of self-driving taxis could interfere with emergency response efforts. Transportation officials say self-driving cars have disrupted public transit, traffic and construction on local streets.

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